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DARK IN RISING, 2007
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DARK IS RISING
Movie Review
Released October 5 2007
Directed by David L. Cunningham
Starring Alexander Ludwig and Ian McShane






SYNOPSIS:

A boy's life is turned upside down when he learns that he is the last of a group of immortal warriors who have dedicated their lives to fighting the forces of the dark.

REVIEW:

Hollywood and the Indie scene this year apparently are all about the horror flick.

Sundance was stacked with slashers, and the major screenwriting competitions have been flooded with writers jumping the bandwagon.

That, despite the clear evidence on the screens that the Western is the new black. And even that trend will have slid away by the time the trend-jumpers have dashed off their latest made-to-order masterpiece.

Should I say, the train to Yuma will have left the station?

Hollywood flavors are cyclical. This year, it's the musical. Next it's movies about the CIA.

The only way to be in on a trend is to start it yourself. Or learn how to do something old better than it's ever been done.

One thing that Hollywood has always had a less than stellar track record on is really good kids' films of the non-animated variety. Some are preachy, or uneven, or just condescending enough that kids feel like they're eating broccoli instead of watching entertainment.

But I think someone up there is figuring it out. Case in point: this very strong adaptation of Susan Cooper's classic children's series.

It's been a long time since I read them, but these are very dark books, dark in a way we often try to mitigate when we make a film for kids.

There's a reason Grimm's fairy tales were so black and frightening. They were fun; it's fun to be scared. The only people who want to protect kids from every hint of the fearful are the kind of well-meaning adults who believe that teenagers won't have sex if we don't tell them anything about it.

In The Seeker, Will Staunton is the seventh son of a seventh son, which means at the outset he has major sibling issues, something all kids either relate to or envy. He's smaller and weaker than his brothers, and the only one who seems to have any time for him is his adoring little sister.

That all changes when he's hauled out of a busy Christmas shopping mall into a frightening confrontation with two security guards who know too much about him, and are so menacing that Will runs. The pursing guard bursts out of his clothing, transformed into a flock of crows.

This is Will's first contact with the forces of the Dark, whose anointed adversary he will be, in the service of the Light.

You don't get more epic than this.

The subject matter is weighty, but it's handled with just the right amount of humor and recognizable family conflict. The young star, Alexander Ludwig, holds his own admirably in a cast that includes heavy hitters like Christopher Eccleston, Wendy Crewson, and the luminous Frances Conroy (Six Feet Under), not to mention the indispensable Ian McShane.

It was because of McShane I was drawn to the film initially - and he is really the glue that holds this effort together, bringing a real humanity to a role that otherwise might have been just another wise old mentor to a young child with the literal weight of the world on his shoulders.

The film is not without its problems. It begins better than it ends, with a resolution that seems both rushed and without enough grounding in the set-up.

But the relationships between the characters are strong, the tone of the novel is captured despite the usual translation of the very British hero into an American boy, and overall, it is a very good kids' film.

For adults like me, too...

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